Houston pastor Joel Osteen and feel-good homophobia

Lakewood Church leader part of new breed who couch anti-gay teachings in forgiveness, love

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Joel Osteen

When the Michele Bachmanns or Glenn Becks of the world do their public rants about rampant homosexual perversion and the decay of American values, I’m happy to let them talk.

As painful as it is to keep the free flow of ideas going, it is important to let people fly their colors. This way you know where they stand and you get to fly your own big neon flag in response. When activists called to have the Mormon church’s tax-exempt status yanked for its role in California’s Prop 8, I took the church’s side — not because I approved of their bully tactics, but because I didn’t want to see other churches lose their right to fight for us one day.

So you’d think I’d be OK with Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen’s recent remarks recently to Oprah Winfrey: “I believe that homosexuality is shown as a sin in the scripture. I do.” I’m so not OK with this I almost foam at the mouth whenever I think about that nuclear white Osteen smile.

True, Osteen was just sick about having to say that we’re sinners, and almost apologized for it. He went out of his way to opine that Christians make too big a deal about homosexuality and that it’s about as sinful as being prideful or fibbing. I’m glad that my marriage only offends God somewhat.

I’ve heard that Osteen has a big gay following, and I know one of those fans well. Once I emailed him to report that Osteen called homosexuality “not God’s best” on Larry King. My friend wrote back, “Well, nobody’s perfect. You take what’s good and leave the rest.” He continues to be inspired.

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Abby Dees | Thinking Out Loud

This all sounds reasonable, and you could argue that my friend was reminding me of my own professed philosophy about free speech and religion. And yet I shrieked out loud when I read his email.

The reason Fox News gets a pass but Osteen has incurred my wrath is because his message is so insidious. It’s feel-good homophobia, so couched in God-loves-you talk that Osteen avoids all responsibility for the fact that real people take his words to heart. Not everyone can “leave the rest” as my friend does.

Whenever Osteen answers the question about homosexuality he hems and haws, but always comes to the apparently painful conclusion that the Bible is unambiguous about it.

He’s quick to add that he does love gay people, welcomes them in his church, doesn’t judge, that there are worse things to be, etc. The message that it’s still a sin to be gay gets quickly obscured by smiley faces and glitter glue for hope.

Curiously, Osteen is rarely willing to take a stand on any other issues. He’s gotten criticized by the religious right for staying out of politics and being unwilling to talk about sin as much as he talks about positivity. It’s all about being “the best you can be” — God’s plan for you. When Mike Wallace asked Osteen if he thought Mormons were true Christians, he humbly responded, “I haven’t really studied them or thought about them…I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don’t know” and “I’m not one to judge the little details of it.”

Hmm. Why so vague about the folks who have an entirely different set of scriptures, but so damned clear on the disappointing truth about homosexuality? Perhaps some serious re-examination is in order.

Another pastor whose language and selective choice of issues is spookily similar to Osteen’s is the purpose-driven Rick Warren. Also a proclaimed political abstainer, he encouraged his flock to vote against same-sex marriage and has disturbing ties to the recent wave of anti-gay policies in Africa. Warren still insists that he loves gay people and works closely with “a number of gay organizations,” though no one ever asks which ones. These men are entitled to their opinions, but it’s time to call out the hypocrisy of this new breed of influential pastors who want us all to bathe in the light of God’s forgiving love. Except that LGBT people must still deny how God made them if they want “God’s best” for themselves.

California-based writer Abby Dees is the author of  ‘Queer  Questions Straight Talk.’ She can be contacted through her website QueerQuestionsStraightTalk.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Fur is murder

ANIMAL INSTINCT | Daniel Hauff equates all livestock to the gentlest house pet. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

… but eggs are worse. Mercy for Animals’ Daniel Hauff is among many gay folk passionate about animal rights

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

In an area of the country where meat consumption and hunting are often equated with American values, taking on an industry can seem like an uphill battle. But it’s one Daniel Hauff is happy to fight.

Last week, Hauff — the national director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, the pro-vegan, animal rights group — held a press conference where he reveals horrendous treatment of catfish in local fisheries. He called on the district attorney to take action, and the Texas Legislature to prohibit the vivisection of animals, including fish, in the state.

It’s just another day at work for Hauff, whose job is to reveal the truth behind how animals are treated in a variety of contexts.

“Absolutely everything that has to do with protecting animals goes back to an undercover investigation,” he says. And he’s the one responsible for getting it done.

Eddie Garza, MFA’s campaign coordinator in Texas, says there are few people in country who do what Hauff does — and he’s probably the only gay person doing it.

“There are a lot of the LGBT community” who are active in protecting animals from cruelty at all levels, Hauff says. MFA itself was founded by a gay 15-year-old, Nathan Runkle, more than a decade ago. Garza is also gay.

“MFA at one point had a campaign coordinator who was transgender. I think a lot of the reason for that is commonality of looking at oppression. I assume a lot has to do with growing up gay and having to deal with people spitting on you for who you are. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes [is common for us], and I am now a lot stronger person for having endured it.”

Hauff certainly has the background to give weight to his cause. He attended DePaul University, where he read international studies with a concentration in human rights and social justice. “I was studying genocide and intending to get my hands dirty in human rights work,” he says. Instead, he shifted his focus to animal rights.

Hauff had been a vegetarian for several years, starting in high school, but eventually abandoned it. Then in 2005, he saw a video that churned his stomach: A raccoon dog being skinned alive.

“That sort of opened my eyes,” he says. “My partner Reeve came home and knew something was wrong. I was actually crying in the alley after I saw that video. I knew that there wasn’t a difference between my dogs and the animals we were eating.”

It so affected him, Hauff decided to do something he hadn’t before: He went completely vegan overnight. Reeve supported his decision and went vegetarian that week, eventually becoming a vegan as well. (Their pets are also vegan.) And he became active volunteering with Mercy for Animals.

“Within a year I had become so involved with MFA I applied for a job. I decided to do my year in-service for animal rights instead of human rights,” Hauff says. He expected the work to be a brief stopover on his path to human genocide studies, but five years later, it’s still his profession.

It’s not easy work, but it is important — to him and the creatures he seeks to protect.

“The first undercover investigation for MFA that we did that was employment-based,” meaning operatives for MFA go undercover in slaughterhouses and other animal-based industries, applying for jobs and then cataloging abuses and law violations. On the last day of the investigation just concluded in Texas, Hauff himself was wired with a hidden camera, interacting with the people in the abattoir (though he admits his duties generally don’t put him undercover).

Hauff also works with veterinarians to improve treatment, as well as with Temple Grandin, the advocate for humane treatment of animals celebrated in a recent TV movie. But in truth, Hauff sees everything short of veganism as half-measures.

“Temple reduces suffering, but it’s not kind in any way. I have never seen an animal going to their death without fighting for their life. We could walk into any slaughterhouse Temple Grandin has designed and still be horrified,” he says. “It’s often standard practice that we’re revealing.”

Hauff says he considers the egg and dairy industry far crueler than meat consumption itself. He doesn’t expect everyone will ever become a vegan like he is, but that’s not really the point.

“There are less cruel ways of doing things,” he says. “It’s about reducing suffering.”

And the more people know, the better they will be about making choices.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright